In an impassioned address last night, President Donald Trump pleaded with Americans to support his plan to build a massive barrier along the US-Mexico border. Aside from preventing illegal immigration, Trump stressed that a border wall or fence would curb human trafficking and stop the flow of heroin into the United States.
"Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl," Trump said during the primetime address. "Every week, 300 citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border."
While Trump is right about the volume of heroin pouring into America from Mexico, his solution won't work, according to the DEA.
"Mexico remains the primary source of heroin available in the United States," according to the DEA's 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment report. "The SWB [Southwest Border] remains the primary entry point for heroin into the United States," the report added. So Trump is right about that.
However, only "a small percentage" of heroin is actually smuggled through unprotected parts of the border. "The majority of the flow is through POVs [privately owned vehicles] entering the United States at legal ports of entry, followed by tractor-trailers, where the heroin is co-mingled with legal goods," the report noted.
In other words, smugglers are sneaking the vast majority of heroin through legal entry points, so building a barrier along the border to stop them would be like building a wall to keep rain away from your house. Since very little rain falls horizontally, the barrier won't do much to keep your roof dry.
The same case goes for the other drugs that Trump mentioned in his address. Mexican drug cartels "most commonly smuggle the multi-kilogram loads of fentanyl concealed in POVs before trafficking the drugs through SWB POEs," not across unprotected stretches of the border, according to the DEA.
Likewise, "[t]he SWB remains the principal entry point for the majority of the cocaine entering the United States," according to the DEA, which says the "majority of cocaine entering the SWB in CY 2016 flowed through the San Diego corridor (6,578 kilograms or 49.8%) and the Rio Grande Valley corridor (2,646 kilograms or 20%)." Smaller amounts were smuggled through other legal points of entry, so there is no large haul moving through unprotected stretches of the border.
The Southwest Border also "remains the main entry point for the majority of methamphetamine entering the United States," the DEA noted. And as with other illicit substances, "[t]raffickers employ various methods and techniques in the concealment of methamphetamine, such as human couriers, commercial flights, parcel services, and commercial buses. Commonly, traffickers transport small, multi-kilogram shipments of methamphetamine in POVs."
So while building a wall or fence would definitely hinder attempts to sneak heroin and other illicit substances across unprotected stretches of the border, that supply system is a trickle compared to the flood pouring through legal entry points staffed by customs officials. So to curb drug smuggling, America needs better equipment and training to find illicit cargo before it passes through those ports of entry.